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West Virginia County Passes State's First Ban on Oil/Gas Waste Injection Wells

A county commission in southern West Virginia, more than 100 miles away from active unconventional drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shales, has unanimously passed the state's first ordinance banning the injection and storage of oil and gas drilling wastes.

The Fayette County Commission voted in favor of the ordinance on a second reading at a meeting Tuesday. Local activists had submitted a petition with 5,000 signatures calling for the ban, reportedly prompted by a single injection well operated by a company in Lochgelly, WV. Headwaters Defense, a group supporting the ban, said residents living near the well had documented spills into a nearby creek.

"This is a big step in protecting our water and health here in Fayette County," the group said. "The passage of this ordinance...is due to efforts of local residents who have worked for years to stop oil and gas waste disposal in Fayette County."

The county's ordinance also includes a provision that would allow citizens the ability to enforce any violations with penalties. It's unclear how that would work, though. Headwaters said it expects a legal challenge against the ordinance from the company that owns the well.

Some residents throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania have rallied against injection wells and waste storage, contending they pose hazards to humans and the environment because of the additives and solids included in them, but West Virginia has seen less controversy (see Shale DailyAug. 14, 2015). Some communities in Ohio and Pennsylvania have primarily opposed injection wells because of their role in accepting unconventional drilling waste from the region's shale fields.

Corky DeMarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, said the well in question in Fayette County has mostly been inactive. It serves conventional producers. He said the well has not accepted shale drilling waste from the northern part of the state.That could not be confirmed.

"We have progressed to recycling almost all of the water we use," he said of the oil and gas industry. "At the end of the process, there's a minimal amount of waste that has to be gotten rid of. I don't know of anyone, especially shale drillers, that were using that injection well. It's much farther south of the play.

"We don't want this waste on the road anymore than we have to," he added. "It's also a lot easier to take [shale] waste over the state line and dispose of it in Ohio."

There are about 71 injection wells in West Virginia, where the state has regulatory primacy. In Ohio, state records show more than 200 active injection wells.

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